The Nike EYBL circuit events are a unique experience for anyone that has been around AAU basketball.
It is more than just a tournament held in a different locale every weekend. It’s a league that stretches on throughout the spring and the summer, where the 32 teams affiliated with Nike will play five games a weekend at four different events before the season culminates at Peach Jam, the EYBL playoffs. It’s intense. It’s competitive. And it’s populated by the best players, the most well-known coaches and the biggest name writers in college basketball.
“The EYBL is not like anything that I’ve seen before,” said Mike Williams, a 16-year old junior that played in his first EYBL event in Hampton with the NY Lightning in April. “It’s completely different. The players are better, playing against top competition every game. The atmosphere is really crazy.
“All the head coaches were there. Everybody. And my heart just jumped through my chest. It was really nerve-wracking just to see all those head coaches.”
If Williams’ nerves were wracked, I would hate to see what happens when he is playing loose. In his first game of the weekend, Williams went for 25 points, hitting 7-7 from three, and never slowed down. He finished the weekend averaging 18.2 points while hitting 51.4% (18-35) from three and chipping in with nine assists and six steals. The Lightning went 4-1 on the weekend.
“It was a great experience for me,” the Brooklyn native and Bishop Loughlin product said.
While the 7-7 performance from three got him noticed, Williams made a name for himself in his first game on the second day of the event. The Lightning were playing Mac Irvin Fire, one of the best teams in the league. Jahlil Okafor is the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014. Cliff Alexander is top five. Both are being recruited by every school in the country. Throw in the likes of Josh Cunningham and Jalen Brunson, and it’s no wonder that the Fire packed the stands every time they took the floor.
But it was Williams who stole the show, finishing with a team-high 20 points and hitting the would-be game-winning three with just a couple of ticks left on the clock; his coach called a timeout when they had no timeouts remaining, and the Fire eventually won in overtime.
Making the performance all the more impressive is that Williams is playing up a year. He won’t turn 17 until September 23rd, a month into his senior year. Temple, Creighton, Rutgers, Fordham, Quinnipiac, Manhattan, Rhode Island and Fairfield are among the schools that have offered Williams, but his performance at the EYBL has gotten him some attention from bigger programs, including Virginia.
Only, Williams doesn’t quite know who.
“My brother’s heard from a lot of coaches, but he won’t tell me,” he said. “He wants to keep me focused.”
The one school that Williams hopes to hear from this summer is Florida, a program that a number scoring guards from New York — Mike Rosario, Erving Walker — have found a great deal of success. “Their style of play fits my style of play,” he said.
Williams cares about academics as well. When I talked to him, he was just leaving a test for an honors physics class he is taking. He also said he wants to find a school with a good pre-law program because he sees himself being a lawyer one day.
“Because everyone from New York can argue,” he said.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.